24 October 2018
George Washington emerged as perhaps the most significant figure in early American history, earning himself a spot on our one-dollar bill. He has of the most recognizable faces in this country, a face that reminds us of our origins. He led the new nation through war and presidency and managed to do so because of the ideal character traits he emulated. Washington was intelligent and a man full of ideas. Through the eyes of his peers he had wealth, ambition, and a good reputation. Washington was an effective leader with outstanding characteristics and always strived for victory.
Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia in 1732 to a reputable family of six children, he was homeschooled until the age of sixteen. Washington inherited his family’s fortune after his brother and niece died, gaining the Mount Vernon Estate where he unfortunately had slaves. In the 1750’s Washington was an officer for the British, defending the crown when the French began seizing territory. After the British won the French and Indian War, George Washington yearned for a commission that he never received despite his loyal nature. In 1758, he left the militia and was married one month afterwards to a widow named Martha Custis. Martha’s money helped Washington to become one of the wealthiest leaders in the country and in Virginia at the time.
Washington was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses where he disagreed with Britain’s taxes that sparked a growing resentment against America’s mother country. Colonists were picking sides and many believed that sticking with the British was ideal because they were very powerful. The colonies witnessed a great strife. Washington soon became a member of the First Continental Congress in March of 1775, only a month prior to the revolutionary war. He was mentally prepared to lead the patriot army and did so with passion. Although he continuously lost battles, he didn’t lose the war. When Washington made his infamous journey across the Delaware River, he used Guerilla Warfare tactics against the Hessians. “In 1781, the Continental Congress was bankrupt and cut funding dramatically. In addition, citizen support was at its lowest. Army desertions continued at a rapid pace and mutinies occurred. Despite this Washington won important strategic victories. The 1781 victory at Yorktown, with the French army and navy’s indispensable help, sealed the War” (Continental Army, 2018). Following victories at Princeton and Trenton, winter struck and the army now had to survive against the British as well as mother nature. Over 2,500 soldiers were lost to the cold as well as other factors that resulted in death. Almost none of them had shoes, but they soldiered on and continued under General Washington’s guidance.
The British had finally been pushed to the limit and surrendered at Yorktown. Washington’s tenacity proved to be stronger than the British. Once freedom was earned, Washington could finally resign and return to Martha at Mount Vernon. He was then thrown back into politics and helped to produce the Constitution. After 69 electors casted their vote, Washington emerged as the new and first president of a feeble nation. He won by a unanimous vote. Washington chose only to serve for two terms in order to set a good example. He firmly believed in having popular rule opposed to a monarchy and for that reason he stepped down after those two terms. In December of 1799 Washington died at his home and upon his death, he emancipated his slaves.
One of George Washington’s most prominent traits was his ability to lead. He showed skills in leadership when he had been commander in chief of the Continental Army, president of the Constitutional Convention, and ultimately the first president this nation has ever had. In 1775 when he was elected as Commander in Chief of the United Colonies, he immediately took action and headed for Boston the following day. When elected, it helped that he was wealthy because he was less likely to fall victim to greed and corruption due to money. He held the common viewpoint of the American people; he was one of them.
He was a trustworthy man and well known in the military. He gained the respect of his army and they listened to him. Washington molded them into fighters and at first described them as having little to no order. “Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.” (Washington, Letter of Instructions, 29 July 1759). Washington disciplined himself as well. Being a man with strong emotion and a rather intense temper at times, he tried his best to keep himself in check… but sometimes failed to do so.
Bravery was his strong suit and it was necessary in the battles he fought. For example, when he was young and immersed in the battle known as Braddock’s Defeat, Washington did not fail to guide his British troops despite just suffering from a bout of dysentery. On top of that, he somehow avoided death when faced with numerous flying bullets. “Young Colonel George Washington, however, seemed immune to the bullets. He had two horses shot from under him, his hat shot off, and he found four bullet holes in his clothing after the battle. In addition, a Shawnee sub-chief by the name of Red Hawk knew Washington and tried to kill him numerous times during the melee. Eleven times he aimed and fired his flintlock rifle at the young colonel, and 11 times he missed. Priding himself in his usually excellent marksmanship Red Hawk finally gave up, believing Washington protected by the Great Spirit” (George Washington and Braddock’s Defeat, 2018). Always putting himself in harm’s way for the sake of his army, Washington instilled a great deal of bravery in his men.
Throughout George Washington’s Farewell Address, his character is present. His desire to strengthen the nation and keep it united for years to come was his true intention. In his address, Washington endorsed his views on a country founded upon God and virtue. He was strongly against a party system and stated, “The common and continual mischief’s sic of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and the duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion” (Washington, Washington’s farewell address, 19 September 1796). What he means by this is that political parties cause disagreement and separation. Our nation was never to be divided, we were to be united. Political parties host views that touch upon moral, economic, and social values. Washington attempted to stop political parties before they became a platform for tension and disagreement. Obviously he did not succeed because we still have political parties today and it is merely impossible to get rid of them.
With a wife devoted to religion, Washington built his foundation on the goodness of God. He often wrote about the importance of good character and integrity to young people such as his children. “While we are zealously preforming the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian” (The Writings of George Washington, Vol. XI, pp. 342-343). He believed that religion was important for a successful government and that politics should support a national sense of morality.
While Washington possessed many traits of a natural born leader, his most striking attribute was his concern for the future generations to come. George Washington made sure that he carried himself in a way that was respected and heroic. To be remembered is all he wanted from America and in return, he would guide her towards liberty and freedom using his leadership and bravery. Washington wanted America to be a beacon of hope and for democracy to be a trend setter. He fully believed in this country and we have prospered to this day.
“Continental Army.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/continental-army/.
“Founders Online: Instructions to Company Captains, 29 July 1757.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-04-02-0223.
“George Washington and Braddock’s Defeat.” NRA Family, www.nrafamily.org/articles/2017/3/2/george-washington-and-braddock-s-defeat/
“George Washington.” The White House, The United States Government, www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/george-washington/.
“Online Library of Liberty.” The Writings of George Washington, Vol. XI (1785-1790) – Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org/titles/washington-the-writings-of-george-washington-vol-xi-1785-1790.
“President George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796).” Our Documents – President George Washington’s Farewell Address (1796), www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false;doc=15.